Sponsored advert registers you... for the Vote Leave campaign
When you search Google for the term ‘Register to Vote’, the top result is an advert for Vote Leave, with the headline ‘Have You Registered Yet?’ The next link down is the official government page where you can register to vote.
Vote Leave’s advert takes you to a registration page – not for the referendum, but for the Vote Leave campaign’s mailing list.
Clicking on the first link takes you to an online form with the message:
‘If you are as determined as we are for the UK to vote ‘leave’ and take back control, show your support and register to vote today!’
It has a form on the page, suggesting some kind of registration process, followed by a big ‘Register to Vote’ button, suggesting you’re registering to vote. Filling out this form brings up the message:
‘Thank you for joining us! You are on your way to registering…’
But it is of course a data-harvesting site – once you’ve clicked submit, the campaign then takes you to a fairly neutral information screen, seemingly copied out from the electoral commission website, with only a small registration link once you’ve scrolled down.
You immediately receive an email from Vote Leave, headed (rather annoyingly) ‘Registered to vote yet?’ – you might be forgiven for thinking you just did register – with this message:
‘Thank you for taking the time to read our page on UK voter registration for the 23 June referendum. […]
You indicated that you’re planning to vote leave in the EU referendum and hope that we can continue to count on your support.’
The email goes on:
‘To protect the NHS and to take back control from the EU, Vote Leave needs your support.
To do this, we need to talk to people like yourself who understand the value of a well funded NHS. […]
Our volunteer army is mobilising now and we need your support!’
In short, people Google ‘Register to Vote’, fill out the form in the top result, and find themselves being asked to volunteer for Vote Leave. Plus they now have your email address and can send you campaign material all the way up to the referendum.
There is nothing to suggest any of this is against the campaign rules – but it’s perhaps worrying that the actually impartial government registration site isn’t at the top of what will probably be the most Googled search today.
And there are certainly data protection issues at stake given the lack of overt clarity on whether the site is actually going to get you on the register. It’s not – they’re getting you on a anti-EU campaign database.
The Data Protection Act mandates that to meet the law, organisations collecting data ‘must be transparent and ensure clients are fully informed and understand what will happen to their personal information … You must gain permission to use any collected data and let the individuals know exactly what it will be used for.’
In case you’ve been lured by sponsored ads, here’s the actual link to register to vote. The deadline is midnight tonight (June 7). Registration takes five minutes.
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Update: We posted this story at 10.20am on 7/7/16. By midday the Vote Leave ‘Register to Vote’ page had been quietly taken down, as reported by Political Scrapbook. The screenshots above are the only published trace of Vote Leave’s attempt to harvest data in the guise of registering voters.
Josiah Mortimer is a regular contributor to Left Foot Forward. You can follow him on Twitter@josiahmortimerLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.